ALBANY, July 13— The seeds of romance between Laural Allen and Samuel Johnson were sown in a most unlikely place: the sporting goods department of the new Wal-Mart in Johnstown, N. When he first laid eyes on her, she was showing a hunting rifle to a customer. Allen, the mother of a 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, who briefly collected public assistance after her dismissal. It wasn't interfering with my job." Supporting the 'Family Unit' At issue in the case is a section in the 1989 company handbook entitled "fraternization." In it, the company -- known for its rock-bottom prices, friendly service and wholesome "Buy American" image -- cautions its sales associates to maintain "sound business relationships" with their co-workers. Johnson, a relationship that she said began to flourish after her husband, David, a 27-year-old machinist, moved out of their home in December. The relationship first came to the attention of Wal-Mart managers in early January, when her estranged husband's lawyers served her with custody papers at the store. But the new statute, like laws passed in other states, bars employers from dismissing workers because they participated in a political campaign or a union, or even because they attended a particular movie. Abrams said of the Wal-Mart case, "is the fact the employer is terminating the employee not on the basis of job performance but on what they're doing in their private lives outside the workplace." "When they were dismissed," he said, "there was no allegation of this relationship interfering with their job performance." A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, Kimberly Ellis, said she was prohibited by company policy from commenting on "matters in litigation." Although it has hundreds of discount stores in the Middle West and South, Wal-Mart is a relatively new player on the Northeastern retail scene, opening 22 stores in New York state in an incursion that began only two years ago. Abrams said he would file suit against Wal-Mart in State Supreme Court on Wednesday, seeking the reinstatement of the couple, with back pay, and an injunction against the further use of the policy. "I don't think it was right, what they did," said Ms. Johnson several weeks before her husband left, when she left her post on the customer service desk to lend a hand in sporting goods for a couple of hours. Johnson, who was assigned to the sports department, was chastising her for displaying the rifle, saying that was his job. At no time, she said, did the two show any affection at the store, which opened last summer in Johnstown, a city about 40 miles northwest of Albany. Allen said she was summoned to the office of the store manager, Debbie Adams, who asked if she was dating Mr. Law Passed in July "I didn't think it was right that they could dictate to me that way," she said. Abrams, the case provides a clear-cut application of the new law, which the Legislature passed last July and which makes it unlawful for a business to terminate employment based on "an individual's legal recreational activities outside of work hours and off of the employer's premises." Before the law was passed, New York had traditionally subscribed to the common-law doctrine of "employment at will," which gave employers broad latitude to hire and fire.(Smithson died in March.) Cote filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that Walmart’s policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination “because of sex.” The EEOC endorsed her legal theory, and Cote launched a class-action lawsuit on behalf of herself and about 1,000 people who suffered from Walmart’s anti-gay insurance policy between 20.(A statute of limitations issue prevented the suit from reaching back further.) barred by Title VII.Smithson attempted to enroll in Cote’s insurance plan but Walmart rejected her, citing its anti-gay policy.
Allen began her job as a cashier with the company last summer.Have your own story about being fired from Walmart or any other big retailer?Tell us in the comments or shoot an email over to [email protected] here’s the thing: Whether or not there are policies forbidding them, office relationships happen.A recent survey by Career Builder found that nearly 40% of employees admitted to having a romantic relationship with a co-worker.